Monday, January 29, 2007

***Recess Monkey***

With an CD cover like this, you might expect a Beatles-inspired concept album of sorts. Well, you'd be kinda right: the album begins on a "Sgt. Pepper" / "I Am the Walrus" vibe, and includes a "Taxman" clone, with a thread of animal songs (both wild and domestic) running throughout. Sound interesting? It gets better: the tunes on Aminal House are incredibly poptastic, on par with Chris von Sneidern at his best and Jellyfish on a very silly day. Say hi to Recess Monkey!

These three teachers from Seattle who call themselves Recess Monkey released their first CD, Welcome to Monkey Town, back in 2005. Their second is a brilliant mix of melodicism, akin to The Quiet Two (formerly The Quiet Ones); science facts, much like Teacher and the Rockbots; and all-around jollity, a la Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Aminal House kicks off with a massive string of great tunes, each one better than the last. I mean, just check out the choruses of "Aquarium" and "Zoo Zoo Zoo"; the "Taxman" verse of "KC (He's a Fine Dog)"; the softshoe cabaret of "Fred (The Tabby Cat)" ... just wait 'till the chorus hits and you can totally picture a thousand kids on a hilltop singing, "Meow, Meow!"

The album continues with, among others, the beautiful "Butterfly", the powerpop of "Littlest Monkey", the quiet/loud pastoral "The Rabbits", the piano anthem "Grey Zebra", a little surf rock with "Pet Shark", and the Todd Rundgren-y "Cookie". Throw in a few short, silly skits and some general rowdiness with the Monkey Town characters, and you've got yerself a great presentation!

Incredibly hooky chord changes and sophisticated arrangements elevate this CD far above yer average kids' album; and the spacious, in-the-same-room production is extremely well done. It's hard to believe this is an independent release! and a kids' album, at that! by three silly teachers!

Lots of goofiness, lots of awesome songs, lots of fun. Recess time!

Monday, January 22, 2007

***Park Slope Parents: The Album (Vol. 1)***

With such an unbelievable wealth of talent in one Borough, what else was one to do but release a benefit CD containing contributions from some of Brooklyn's (and the world's) biggest names in kids' music. From Dan Zanes to David Weinstone, from Michael Leyden to Audra Rox, from Astrograss to The Deedle Deedle Dees, from Suzi Shelton to Daniel Schorr, Park Slope Parents presents a great collection of songs loosely based on life in Park Slope and its environs, all to support the operation and upkeep of the Park Slope Parents website.

One of the great things about the album is the treasure trove of "unreleased" stuff: The Quiet Two's "When I Dream", Sign-a-Song's "Friends", and Astrograss' version of "Drunken Sailor" (with help from Audra Rox's band) can only be found here. Both Courtney Kaiser (from KaiserCartel) and Audra Rox wrote songs specifically for this project, and The Deedle Deedle Dees' "Major Deegan" is from an as-yet-unreleased album. And Brooklyn's Mo Willems illustrates the whole package ... cool!

But lookyhere, you better go out and get one fast: the Park Slope Parents organization is only pressing 5,000 copies, and Brooklyn might be a long walk for some of you (psst, don't worry, CD Baby is selling them, too!). Lots o' links to check out on the website, so get to clickin'!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

***Little Miss Ann***

OK, we all know the superpop kids' album thing can be done, and done well (see Morgan Taylor's Gustafer Yellowgold, Doug Snyder's the Jellydots, Lee Feldman's STARBOY, etc.). So, after hearing several amazing records geared toward, say, six- to ten-year-olds, it's refreshing to find a nice little CD like this. Little Miss Ann's Music for Tots is exactly that: tunes your littlest music fans can recite, sing with and dance along to.

Ann Torralba is an alumnus of Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, home of the Wiggleworms children's music programs and creator of three CDs chock full of traditional folk songs. Torralba and her husband have recorded an album of songs that are really ... well, for lack of a better term, groovy, but I mean that in the best way possible. The production is very warm and intimate, and there are lots of killer harmonies. Think Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention with less elaborate instrumentation and simpler vocal arrangements.

The album begins with Torralba's quietly welcoming "Hello", and follows with Arthur Hamilton's "Sing a Rainbow" from the movie Pete Kelly's Blues, but Torralba's arrangement, I swear, could have been a soda pop commercial in the early 70s. Next is "Pirate Ship", a great Toddler Time movement song; then comes Torralba's funky "Dance with Your Daddy", and a completely original arrangement of Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine".

The silly "Edamame", based on the traditional "I Had a Rooster", offers an international buffet for the listener (who knew tortillas and latkes grew on trees?), and the simple but extremely catchy adaptation of "There's a Little Wheel" coulda been a hit for Linda Ronstadt back in the mid-70s. The album ends with Torralba's "Moon Jelly", Elizabeth Cotton's "Freight Train", and the traditional "Golden Slumbers".

This is a cozy and fun CD worthy of any preschooler's music collection. Get one for their daycare or Kindergarten classroom, as well. I think they'll dig it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

***Books of Compassion***

Seeing as how I am a Children's Librarian, it's only fitting that every once in a while I post something about books. So I'll shut up about music for a bit and tell you about some great reads for yer little ones.

Rebecca Schosha, a fellow Kids' Librarian here at the Donnell Central Children's Room, passed along an article called "How to Raise a Compassionate Child", written by Jane Meredith Adams, and originally published on In it, Adams describes several ways we grownups can promote sweetness, helping, and friendship in our little ones.

Going with that vibe, I picked out a few books that fall under that general thought. And the ones I picked were not from the group of books that say "make sure to do good things so that good things will happen to you". These merely show thoughtful, empathetic, compassionate actions, without the characters thinking about what might be in it for them. Check 'em out:

Thank You Nicky!, by Harriet Zeifert, ill. Richard Brown
This lift-the-flap board book is a perfect example of the importance of letting your actions, not just your words, guide your little ones' concept of life. Nicky the cat is asked by the first two people he meets to lend them a hand with their tasks. After that, on his own, he helps a little boy who dropped his groceries, a little girl who almost lost her newspaper, and so on.

All That You Are, by Woodleigh Marx Hubbard
Simple statements let the reader know why he or she is special, including "When others need help, you take responsibility", "You are generous", and "You live with compassion". My favorite is an illustration of a crying elephant, who, having stepped on and crushed a boy's bike, is being comforted by the little boy, accompanied by the sentence "You forgive".

Pages of Music, by Tony Johnston, ill. Tomie de Paola
A book which, I'm ashamed to say, I've never heard of before today! Long ago, a boy and his mother visited Sardinia. The poor shepherds of Sardinia gave the boy and his mother fogli di musica, pages of music, or, thin, hard bread. The shepherds would take no payment, but instead happily played music on their pipes. The boy was so taken with the music and the shepherds' kindness, he returned to Sardinia years later a famous composer and arranged a full orchestral concert of the shepherds' simple pipe song.

Here Comes Darrell, by Leda Schubert, ill. Mary Azarian
Based on the kind actions of real-life Darrell K. Farnham, the woodcuts and words of this book tell the story of a good neighbor who looks after everyone else, almost to the detriment of his own home! So when a stiff Autumn wind blows through northern Vermont and tears the roof off Darrell's barn, his neighbors immediately begin rebuilding without even having to be asked.

Cold Paws, Warm Heart, by Madeleine Floyd
A cold, lonely polar bear is warmed from the inside out when a little girl hears his flute music and brings him her scarf and a mug of hot chocolate, spends time with him, and promises to visit every day.

Friday, January 05, 2007

***String Bean Jones***

Holy cow! How could I have missed this one?!? Every so often somebody will bring to my attention a CD that has been out for a while that they think should be heard, and sure enough, they were right on with this album. It was like coming across a stack of old 78s in a second hand store, full of music you've never heard before and won't hear anywhere else.

Jeff Harris, aka String Bean Jones, has released a reeediculous number of CDs with his Lefty Jones Band, all wonderful and all amazingly original. The music is sort of acoustic / electric / Neil Young & Crazy Horse / travelling through St. Louis via Vicksburg via Baton Rouge. Harris' first kids' album, String Bean Jones; Live From The Bathtub, continues the legacy of originality and eclecticism, with an emphasis on acoustic performances.

From the Mississippi blues of "Mudpie" to the tender "Babyman" to the rowdy "Peas Fell Hard", from the chugging piano of "Pickle Blues" to the sweet "Alone with the Lightning Bugs" to the silly "Stinky Ann", Harris' compositions and lo-fi production style ( did he really record it in a bathtub ?!? maybe! ) are instantly captivating, and thoroughly entertaining in a "wow - what the hell is this - i love it" kind of way.

Check out some of the clips from all 17 (17!) Lefty Jones releases over at CD Baby, go to iuniverse and browse through a few pages of Harris' "Smiley-Man Chronicles", then buy copies of all his music for yer kids, uncles, grandmothers, dogs, and various strangers. They'll thank you.

Monday, January 01, 2007

***2006 Top Fifteen Songs***

OK, say you wanted to put together a mix tape for a friend who had never heard any of the current group of kids' performers. Here are my top fifteen favorites from, roughly, 2006 that I would immediately have the uninitiated listen to. Why fifteen? That's about the length of a regular album, and, well, I'm too lazy to pick twenty. Check 'em out!

Number Fifteen : Tiburon - Josh Levine
from the CD Josh Levine for Kids
Classic Spanish-language cover song that will make your Toddlers go Salsa crazy!

Number Fourteen : Punk Rock Skunk - Farmer Jason
from the CD Rockin' In the Forest with Farmer Jason
Jason Ringenberg lets the rock and roll fly, while giving the music industry a playful nudge in the ribs.

Number Thirteen : Hold My Hand - Enzo Garcia
from the CD LMNO Music-Pink
The most joyful, singalongable kids' song written in 7/4 time you'll ever hear.

Number Twelve : Eleanor Gerbil - Monty Harper
from the CD Paws, Claws, Scales & Tales
The Rutles would be mighty proud!

Number Eleven : If You Listen - Elizabeth Mitchell
from the CD You are My Little Bird
There is a wonderful world of music that exists beyond the borders of yer run-of-the-mill kids' selection, as this beautiful and obscure cover song proves.

Number Ten : Jack was Every Inch a Sailor - The Hollow Trees
from the CD The Hollow Trees
The best drinking song for kids ever ... EVER!

Number Nine : Fascinating Creatures - Frances England
from the CD Fascinating Creatures
Music that sounds like Daniel Lanois producing the Sundays, with lyrics that urge us to be the most wonderful being we can possibly be.

Number Eight : Face the Facts - Jim Gill
from the CD Jim Gill Sings Moving Rhymes for Modern Times
Toddler Time activity song disguised as a German beer hall stein-raiser, if sung by Monty Python's Fred Tomlinson's Singers.

Number Seven : Surf's Up All Around the World - Mr. David
from the CD The Great Adventures of Mr. David
If Brian Wilson still recorded stuff like the Smile project, this is what it would sound like.

Number Six: Your Eel - Gustafer Yellowgold
from the DVD Gustafer Yellowgold's Wide Wild World
Format be damned: this DVD-only masterpiece is touching, bittersweet, and poplicious. Guaranteed to make you sing along with the chorus.

Number Five : Respect - Greg Loop
from the CD Stories from Duke Puddintown
An awesome slice of jangly pop music with equally awesome lyrics.

Number Four : Big Bad Wolf - Joel Caithamer
from the CD ACTIVATE!
This rockabilly scorcher tells the true story of that misunderstood ol' wolfie.

Number Three : The Moon Song - dog on fleas
from the CD When I Get Little
Lyrics that are simultaneously silly, cosmic, and full of pop culture references, woven into a song that The Band would have given their beards for.

Number Two : Bicycle - The Jellydots
from the CD "Hey You Kids!"
Pop music par excellence, joyful beyond belief, written in the voice of a child who looks at the world with eyes of wonder, and an adult who loves and appreciates the tiny magical moments of life.

Number One : For Those About to Walk, We Salute You - Daddy A Go Go
from the CD Eat Every Bean and Pea On Your Plate
The most full-on, kick-ass, rock & roll kids' song of the year! Crank this sucker up as loud as you can and thank Les Paul for givin' us the electric solid body guitar.